Jack White falls into that very strange category of artists that I highly admire and never listen to. I have no idea why this is; I have simply loved every single Jack White-related song I’ve ever heard* and I think he’s a fabulous singer and guitar player, but for some reason I never seek him out and never dial him in.
So when he announced a show at the TD Place Arena (née the Ottawa Civic Centre) just a mile from home I was in. When he further announced that his tour would be cellphone-free – all devices were to be locked in bags and kept out of sight – I was in with joyous gusto. I’m not sure if I’ve adequately related through these ticket stories my deep loathing for cellphones; if not I’ll work at it a little harder.
I hate cellphones. Please, please don’t get me started but they ruined tour, they devastate serendipity, and they dramatically downgrade the modern live concert experience, among many other serious social transgressions. I was so excited to re-experience pre-cell-life that I told m’lady I would buy tickets to a phone-free concert even if the only things onstage were a stool holding a pile of poo and a fan blowing the stench in my general direction.
On show day m’lady and I walked to Irene’s and met some friends for dinner before strolling over to the venue. When we got through the door (in the no-phone line) we were a bit late, as the opening act had already gotten started. I stopped by the merch and was impressed with only one item: the tour shirt of said opening act, Crown Lands, from Oshawa, Ontario. On it was a nifty Indigenous design which, coupled with the band’s name indicated that they might be native and might be worth seeing, so I rushed off to my cheap seat.
And found the section curtained off. Like, I could get to my seat all right, but when I got there all I could see was curtains and the backstage area. Hmm. I initially thought that when Jack White came on they would pull down the curtains, but when I sat down in the next section over I took a good look and realized that was crazy-talk. Nope, something was amiss. I went to the Customer Service desk and was immediately given a new ticket.
“This is a serious upgrade sir, we’re putting you in the centre section.” And they weren’t lying.
My seat went from being on the very farthest-flung fringe of the arena to smack-dab in the middle, facing the stage from the last row of the section, which was an extra-bonus in that I was free to stand up whenever I liked without triggering the ire of lazybones concert-sitters, the likes of which I generally find myself sitting (and standing) in front of.
Sitting down with a beer and a smile I settled in for the final ten minutes of Crown Lands, which was great. A duo featuring a lady on drums and a guy playing a Rickenbacker doubleneck guitar/bass, they were tearing it up. Setting aside the obvious nod to the lineup of The White Stripes, the pair were really fun, very skilled, and quite unique.
Even if their closing number was a note-perfect rendition of Rush’s Working Man (which kind of had to happen. You can’t get onstage with a doubleneck Ricky and not play some Rush songs, right?) that medleyed into some very clever snippets from other Rush prog-classics. It even included a drum solo. A really, really good drum solo, that is. And hearing a really good drum solo (period) is almost as rare as including a drum solo in the last song of an opening set in the first place – you don’t have drum solos in opening sets – so it was pretty super-cool.
After a quick turn around Jack White started his set, surrounded by a plethora of vintage guitars lined up behind him in a semi-circle, beyond which another, raised semicircle held his four backup musicians, on bass, guitar, and two keyboards. His first song sounded like a jet lifting off and ended larger than any AC/DC concert. And that was just the first song, mind you. It was exhilarating.
It will come as no surprise that I recognized absolutely none of the music he played until the extended encore, when I heard two that I knew: the asterisked Steady, As She Goes and the ubiquitous Seven Nation Army which, trivially was titled after what a young and obviously adorable Jack White thought the Salvation Army was called (well, he was young Jack Gillis at the time, having yet to take the name of his first wife Meg).
But I’m sure it’s equally unsurprising that I loved it all. Jack is such a powerful, aggressive player, and he just strangles solos out of his instruments. He was relentlessly bombastic, and despite the timbral differences I’m sure he attributes to the different guitars he employs over the course of an evening, from where I was sitting every one of them sounded exactly the same.
To my ear each of his guitars sounded like a freight train. A huge, monstrous freight train running at full tilt, blowing it’s horn the whole time. It was fluid, angular, and utterly enveloping. There was not a hint of letting up, no ballads, no talking to the audience or bringing us down in any way. It was just BAM BAM BAM of explosive music all night long, and it was amazing.
And not one single cellphone anywhere. No distracting texters, nobody holding phones over their heads (right where I am invariably looking) taking shaky, unwatchable videos, no phoneys calling their friends and leaving distorted snippets of their favourite song on some answering machine just to be a jerk…
Oh, I was simply giddy with glee. It was so, so very refreshing. I really hope the no-phone thing catches on, but I’m not holding my breath.
The concert ultimately ended with the aforementioned Seven Nation Army (naturally) and I was left to walk out to the quiet strains of Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World over the PA. Oh, the world used to be wonderful Satchmo, way back before there was a “concert lighter” app available for free download. Yes sir, it used to be.
*With the exception of Steady, As She Goes by The Raconteurs, which sounds way too much like Joe Jackson’s Is She Really Going Out With Him? – a song I absolutely revere – for me to love. Sure, I love it – why wouldn’t I, it sounds exactly like a song I revere – but my scruples have forced my love to boycott the song. Stupid scruples, always getting in the way of a good time.